Film Review: La La Land

‘La La Land’ is by far one of the most beautiful and sublime films of late, effortlessly combining classical Hollywood musical style with a charming contemporary tale of ambition and creative dreams. Emma Stone stars as Mia, an aspiring actress, who attends unsuccessful audition after unsuccessful audition. She works in a coffee shop on the Warner Brothers backlot, so close to her passion, yet so far away from being part of it. Ryan Gosling is Seb, a struggling pianist and jazz purist who wants to open his own jazz club. The two meet, and sparks fly, even if they do initially start out as the wrong kind, with a bit of road rage serving as their meet-cute.

Stone and Gosling, who have appeared alongside each other twice before in ‘Crazy, Stupid, Love’ and ‘Gangster Squad,’ have magnetic chemistry and give captivating performances. Their second encounter sees Mia lured into a restaurant by the sound of Seb playing the piano. She barely makes it past the door, transfixed by his music as she watches him passionately play. He was meant to have stuck to Christmas carols, and is fired straight after. Mia approaches him to pay her compliments, but in his frustration he rudely shoves past her. Their next meeting is perhaps the funniest scene of the film, seeing Seb performing in an 80’s cover band at a party Mia attends. She requests Flock of Seagulls’ ‘I Ran,’ in which he must play the lengthy synth section, mischievously mocking him. As usual, Stone is on perfect comic form, but also shows her brilliance as an actress in the more emotionally charged scenes, with this certainly being her best performance to date.

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The start of their acquaintance is suitably screwball-esque, another reference to classic Hollywood filmmaking. The two leave the party to find their cars, lamenting that they aren’t watching the spectacular purple sunset with someone they like – despite the fact they clearly have sizzling chemistry. The film is utterly romantic as their relationship plays out, never falling into sentimentality, cheesiness, or over-doing it, instead creating an understated romantic charm. The pair are rather reminiscent of classic Hollywood pairings, such as Spencer Tracy and Katharine Hepburn, and Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers, making their casting absolutely perfect for the old movie referencing film.

‘La La Land’ pays homage to old Hollywood musicals with gorgeous routines that see Gosling and Stone tap dance against that sunset sky and dance among the stars at the Griffith Observatory. The film is set in the present day, but it oozes old Hollywood glamour with retro, timeless styling. The pair sing and dance with such a natural sense of ease that they never feel over the top, as can often be the way with the musical genre, especially with modern versions. The songs are beautiful too; there’s a gorgeous, beguiling theme played by Seb that first catches Mia’s attention and runs throughout the film, and numerous charming numbers sung by the leads. Gosling, who is a musician in his own right with his band Dead Man’s Bones, even played a lot of the complex piano we see on screen, learning intensively over three months.

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Despite all the dream chasing, the film, perhaps surprisingly, does ground itself with some realism, and that’s one of the things that makes it so fantastic. The film celebrates creative ambition and dreams, championing hard work and pursuit of what truly excites you above all else. It’s a wonderfully inspiring film for anyone who has ever had big dreams and a restless creativity inside them. Don’t give up, the film tells us. Don’t compromise on your dreams. So while this could have been purely a fun, sweet spectacle with a typical Hollywood happy ending – almost a fantasy with its musical numbers – director Damien Chazelle has also injected a firm stroke of reality into the film, not glossing over the failures and frustrations on the path to success. Near the end a very moving, dreamy sequence of what could have happened – if everything went right – plays out, and we feel sorry that it didn’t.

But that imperfectness – for not everything does work out in life, sometimes you can only compromise so much if you want to achieve your dreams – grounds the film and elevates it beyond a simple romantic tale. As it ends, ‘La La Land’ feels very much bittersweet, but ultimately it’s a magnificent film, both a tribute to Hollywood itself and its classic musicals, full of stunning songs and charming dance routines, while also a ever relevant tale exploring relationships, ambition, and creative struggles. Just try not to be won over by this utterly charming film.

Watch the trailer for ‘La La Land’ below: